A very interesting time could be coming to the NHL and the NBA as their respective playoffs continue. Frankly, a scary time depending on how you view the playoffs. Both fans of specific teams and league exes are rooting and hoping, but what they are rooting and hoping for are very different. Fans want good games, leagues want ratings. For better or worse, the success of a league seems to relate directly to how the ratings go in the playoffs. If ratings from one season to the next drop, then analysts around the country scream doom and gloom and the over analysis of what is wrong with the league begins.
Are these scenarios likely? Maybe not. But they are definitely possible.
In the NBA East, Atlanta is tied 2-2 with Chicago in their semifinal series. The winner plays the winner of the Boston/Miami series. In the West the Dallas Mavericks await the winner of the Oklahoma City/Memphis series. Again, ignoring the likelihood and odds of it happening, it does remain possible for the NBA to have an Atlanta versus OK City or Memphis final.
In the NHL if San Jose defeats Detroit, the Cup Finals will be represented in the West by San Jose or Vancouver. The East could be represented by Tampa Bay if they defeat Boston. The Stanley Cup finals for the NHL could be Tampa and a Canadian team. The NHL would love a Canadian team in the finals. That drives revenue in a big way for the league, but how would it play out on TV in the US? Even if San Jose wins will the market size of San Francisco be enough to help in the ratings? While a repeat o the ratings bonanza from a year ago with Chicago and Philadelphia seems unlikely, a Boston/Vancouver final will be an interesting test. One thing can be said with reasonable certainty. The NHL was thrilled to see Vancouver move on over Nashville.
It is important for leagues to have all teams find some form of success in the playoffs. Individual franchises need it. The problems leagues find themselves in right now though is television. Revenue from TV has become critical for every sports league and there are no greater showcases than playoff finals. While each league will tell you how great it is no matter who is in the finals, make no mistake about it, they want large TV markets. Need proof? In the first round of the playoffs, national television decided, when choosing their first round schedule, not to include any of the games between Nashville and Vancouver.
As both the NHL and the NBA move deeper in their playoff schedules, there may be some great stories coming from new markets reaching the pinnacle of their respective sports. There may be some players or storylines few have heard of creating terrific drama in the series. There may be some good young up and coming teams continuing to get recognized. While all that is good, the television and league execs would just as soon ensure TV ratings remain high. The NBA is no doubt rooting for Chicago to beat Atlanta and then a Chicago/Miami or Boston series. They no doubt want Dallas to come out of the west. The NHL would love to see Boston come out of the east and a Detroit comeback or Vancouver would be huge out of the west for Canadian revenues. Fans just want compelling and competitive play with storylines adding flavor. The leagues want market size. Let the rooting begin.